Category Archives: Agriculture

California drought: Still dry as a bone


From the U.S. Drought Monitor [click on the image to embiggen], and with no change from last week:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWrap: Ills, climate, water, & nukes


Plus a whole lot more.

We open with another deadly disease with a global rich, first with a graphic from disease which preys on the poor, via Agence France-Presse:

BLOG TB

More from BBC News:

WHO revises global tuberculosis estimate up by 500,000

The World Health Organization has revised up its estimate of how many people have tuberculosis by almost 500,000.

In 2013 nine million people had developed TB around the world, up from 8.6 million in 2012, the WHO said. However, the number of people dying from TB continued to decline, it added.

TB campaigners said that one of the biggest problems in tackling the deadly disease was gauging how many people were affected.

About 1.5 million people had died in 2013 from TB, including 360,000 people who had been HIV positive, the WHO said in its Global Tuberculosis Report 2014. And in 2012, there had been 1.3 million tuberculosis deaths.

Next, the latest move in a fight against a growing outbreak in the Caribbean from Public Radio International:

Jamaica declares a state of emergency to try to stop the spread of painful chikungunya virus

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced on Monday that her country is in a “national emergency” this week after the outbreak of the chikungunya virus.

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne virus transmitted by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. “It’s very rarely lethal,” says Dr. Babatunde Olowokure of the Caribbean Public Health Agency — but it’s very painful.

The diesase shares many of the same symptoms as dengue: high fever, headaches, muscle and joint pains, nausea and rashes. The symptoms can last up to 10 months, and have lasted years in some cases.

“This [disease] tends to occur in people who have, maybe, an underlying disease, such as hyper-tension or a cardiovascular issue, and our elderly,” Olowokure says.

The disease has spread throughout the region since surfacing on the island of St. Martin in 2013. Now there are almost 800,000 suspected cases in the Caribbean.

The epidemic’s reach from the Centers for Disease Control:

BLOG Chimi

Antidepressants depressing avian populations?, via the Guardian:

Prozac may be harming bird populations, study suggests

  • Starlings who were fed same levels of antidepressant drug found in sewage earthworms suffered loss of libido and appetite

Increasing consumption of antidepressant drugs may be helping humans but damaging the health of the bird population, according to a new study.

An expert who has looked at the effects of passive Prozac-taking on starlings says it has changed not only their feeding habits but also their interest in mating.

Dr Kathryn Arnold, an ecologist from the University of York, said: “Females who’d been on it were not interested in the male birds we introduced them to. They sat in the middle of the cage, not interested at all.”

Big Agra bites back, from BBC News:

EU pesticide bans ‘could hit UK crops’

The EU’s decision to ban the use of some pesticides could threaten UK crops, increase food prices and hit farmers’ profits, a report has claimed.

The report commissioned by three farming bodies said the EU was on course to “ban” use of 40 chemicals by 2020 to reduce environmental damage.

It said this could lead to a surge in pests, affecting production of apples, carrots and peas, among other crops.

Conservation groups said reducing pesticides would help the environment.

From the Guardian, and now for a word from their sponsor?:

Former Environment Agency head to lead industry-funded fracking task force

  • Lord Chris Smith will lead a new ‘independent’ task force, funded by shale gas companies, to look into the risks and benefits of fracking in the UK

The risks and benefits of fracking for the UK are to be examined by a “independent” task force, led by the former head of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith, and funded by shale gas companies.

“We will assess the existing evidence, ask for new contributions and lead a national conversation around this vitally important issue,” said Smith, who as chair of the Environment Agency oversaw key fracking regulation. “The Task Force on Shale Gas will provide impartial opinions on the impacts, good and bad, that the exploitation of shale gas will have on the UK.”

The government is “going all out” for the rapid development of shale gas in the UK, according to David Cameron. Conservatives say it can increase energy security, help reduce carbon emissions if gas replaces coal and be a boon to poor parts of the UK.

Fracktacular questions from Al Jazeera America:

Green groups say EPA underestimates methane leaks from fracking

  • The EPA touted decreased methane leaks during fracking, but environmentalists say the numbers are skewed

The EPA uses relatively low estimates of how much methane leaks during the natural gas production process. The agency’s estimates are based on a bottom-up approach to monitoring, in which data from individual sources is collected largely through voluntary reporting from the industry and analyzed to paint a broad picture of U.S. methane emissions. Through this method, the EPA has estimated that about 1.2 percent of the gas produced by fracking leaks into the atmosphere during the process.

But a growing list of studies — most of them using top-down approaches, in which monitoring equipment measures emissions over a wide area — throw the EPA’s estimates into question.

“Consistently, studies show [methane leaks] are between 4 and 17 percent,” said Seth B.C. Shonkoff, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and the executive director at science policy think tank PSE Healthy Energy. “The most authoritative say the EPA underestimates methane emissions by about 50 percent. It seems the EPA is forgetting this big field of independent science.”

A scientific review led by Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University, also found that most studies on the topic estimate natural gas methane leakage to be significantly higher than the EPA’s estimates.

From the Guardian, toxic swap syndrome?:

UN climate debt swap is ‘fundamentally unjust’, say development agencies

  • A UN offer of debt relief for small island states to pay for climate change adaptation merges legitimate and illegitimate debt

A UN proposal that would see small island states offered debt relief to pay for climate change contains a “fundamentally unjust” blind spot, according to development groups.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is working on an initiative that would see rich countries write off debt owed to them by Small Island Developing States (Sids) in exchange for the money being spent on climate change adaptation.

But development agencies are concerned the proposal conflates legitimate and illegitimate debt. So-called “dictator debt” – money lent by rich countries to poor countries ruled by strongmen, who commonly used it to finance military ventures or vast follies – is estimated at US$735bn, almost one fifth of the total debt owed by the developing world. Many concerned with development believe this debt to be unjust and that it is impossible to enter into any kind of equitable debt swap until these “dictator debts” are unreservedly cancelled.

The ol’ political grip-and-green from the New York Times:

Environmental Issues Become a Force in Political Advertising

In Michigan, an ad attacking Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate, opens with a shot of rising brown floodwaters as a woman says: “We see it every day in Michigan. Climate change. So why is Terri Lynn Land ignoring the science?”

In Colorado, an ad for Cory Gardner, another Republican candidate for Senate, shows him in a checked shirt and hiking boots, standing in front of a field of wind turbines as he discusses his support for green energy.

And in Kentucky, a spot for the Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, depicts him flanked by coal miners as a woman intones, “The person fighting for our coal jobs is Mitch McConnell.”

The Los Angeles Times brings us Golden State water woes:

Amid California’s drought, a bruising battle for cheap water

The signs appear about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, tacked onto old farm wagons parked along quiet two-lane roads and bustling Interstate 5.

“Congress Created Dust Bowl.” “Stop the Politicians’ Water Crisis.” “No Water No Jobs.”

They dot the Westlands Water District like angry salutations, marking the territory of California’s most formidable water warrior. Their message is clear: Politicians and environmental laws are more to blame for Westlands’ dusty brown fields than the drought that has parched California for the last three years.

From the Guardian, the gondolier blues:

Death in Venice: long-admired gondola feature threatened by rising waters

  1. Gondoliers increasingly forced to remove iron ornament from stern to get their boats under bridges during high waters

Gliding through Venice, its brocaded velvet seats occupied by a sullen pair of tourists, the boat is almost everything a gondola should be: black, sleek and gleaming, with a genial man in stripes rowing it expertly to the canal-bank.

Just one thing is missing from this quintessentially Venetian scene, and while it is passes unnoticed by most visitors it is an absence that aficionados see as a cruel blow to the city’s heritage.

On the stern, where there should be a curved piece of iron recalling the skilled movement of the gondolier’s oar – or, say some romantics, the shape of a lion’s mane – there is nothing. “Shall I put it back on?” asks Stefano, the gondolier, bending down to pick the iron stern ornament up from where it is lying, discarded, beside the seats. “This morning there was acqua alta [high water] and I had to take it off,” he says. “It’s a necessity.”

Dammed if they do, via the Guardian:

India’s largest dam given clearance but still faces flood of opposition

  • The 3000MW Dibang dam, rejected twice as it would submerge vast tracts of biologically rich forests, is to get environmental clearance – but huge local opposition could stall the project

Dibang dam will not only generate power but supposedly control floods in the plains of neighbouring Assam state. The dam’s reservoir was estimated to submerge 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of dense forests along the Dibang river valley. The forest advisory committee (FAC), which examines the impact of infrastructure projects on wilderness areas, was appalled and rejected it.

For a project so large, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) failed to assess critical components of the project and was widely criticised for inadequately predicting the dam’s effects on the environment. Its evaluation of impacts on wildlife is a farce. The authors of the document list creatures not found in that area, such as Himalayan tahr, and concocted species not known to exist anywhere in the world, such as brown pied hornbill. Of the ones they could have got right, they mangled the names, referring to flycatchers as ‘flying catchers’ and fantail as ‘fanter’.

In his scathing critique, Anwaruddin Choudhury, an expert on the wildlife of north-east India, sarcastically concluded the EIA makes a case for the project to be shelved, as Dibang was the only place in the world “with these specialities!” Despite listing these amazing creatures, the EIA goes on to say “no major wildlife is observed”.

The Asahi Shimbun covers a seismic shift:

Nautical charts to be revised to reflect unprecedented changes caused by tsunami

Tsunami breakwaters were destroyed in the ports of Ofunato and Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture, where water depths lost a maximum of 10 meters. But in a July 2011 survey, the water was 15 meters deeper than indicated in the nautical chart at one location in Hachinohe Port, Aomori Prefecture. It is believed that the tsunami induced a big eddy that scooped out part of the seafloor.

Coast Guard officials said local governments that administer ports are in charge of surveying any small changes, such as those resulting from wharf construction. The Coast Guard uses those survey results to modify its nautical charts.

But the 2011 disaster created so many changes that the Coast Guard took the unusual step of conducting comprehensive surveys and republishing nautical charts for all 24 ports affected.

Antarctic conservation from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance via MercoPress:

AOA calls on CCAMLR to agree on marine protection of the Ross Sea and East Antarctica

  • As representatives of the 25 Members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meet this week in Hobart, where they will decide the fate of two key protection proposals in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) called on the member countries to honor their conservation commitments and finally agree to lasting and significant Southern Ocean protection.

A joint US-NZ proposal to designate a Ross Sea marine protected area (MPA) of 1.32 million km2 (with 1.25 million km2 area proposed as “no take”) is under consideration. The Ross Sea, is often referred to as “The Last Ocean” due to its status as one of the most pristine oceans remaining on earth.

Australia, France and the EU are once again proposing an MPA to protect 1.2 million km2 of East Antarctic waters. Their proposal would allow for exploratory and research activities within the MPA if they are consistent with the maintenance of the MPA’s objectives.

More marine peril from Yale Environment 360:

Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.

For years, the idea of prospecting for potentially rich deposits of minerals on the ocean floor was little more than a pipe dream. Extractive equipment
was not sophisticated or cost-effective enough for harsh environments thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, and mining companies were busy exploring mineral deposits on land. But the emergence of advanced technologies specifically designed to plumb the remote seabed— along with declining mineral quality at many existing terrestrial mines — is nudging the industry closer to a new and, for some environmentalists and ocean scientists, worrying frontier.

More than two-dozen permits have been issued for mineral prospecting in international waters. And in April, after years of false starts, a Canadian mining company signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to mine for copper and gold in its territorial waters. That company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to begin testing its equipment next year in European waters, according to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a regulatory agency established in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. A Nautilus spokesman, John Elias, said the plan is to award a construction contract in November for a specialized mining vessel. “All other equipment has been manufactured and is in final assembly,” he wrote in an email.

Chief among critics’ concerns is that seabed mining will begin without comprehensive regulatory oversight and environmental review. They say
dredging or drilling the seafloor could potentially obliterate deep-sea ecosystems and kick up immense sediment plumes, which could temporarily choke off the oxygen supply over large areas. And powerful international companies, they add, could take advantage of the lax or non-existent review and enforcement capabilities in many small island nations of the Pacific Ocean — precisely where seabed mineral deposits are thought to be highly concentrated.

After the jump, Japanese super-eruption odds, the dope on Afghan dope, battlin’ bees Down Under, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with possible criminal charges, worker woes at the reactor complex, new radioactive particle scrubbers, demolition starts with the end point four decades away [if that soon], still no relief for evacuees and a plea for relief, the cruious semantics of Abve’s restart plans, controversy in Sendai, and Chinese coal-lessing. . .   Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Seals, soil, climate, nukes, more


First up, another outbreak from Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Deal Seals In Germany May Have Had Virus, Hunters Called In To Kill Sick

Since early October, at least 180 dead seals have been found along the North Sea coast of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Dead fish and sea creatures often wash up onto beaches along the North and Baltic seas, but experts now say that these seals may have died of a virus that risks spreading further.

The situation is particularly worrisome because 200 of the 1500 seals living on the Danish Baltic Sea island of Anholt have died since August. “A flu virus was found in the cadavers,” says Hendrik Brunckhorst, spokesman for the state government-owned Company for Coastal Protection, National Parks and Ocean Protection in Schleswig-Holstein.

To stem further deaths, seal hunters have been called to kill sick seals on the beaches of Helgoland, Amrum, Föhr and Sylt islands. “Ninety-five percent of the seals found on the beaches are already dead,” says Sylt-based hunter Thomas Diedrichsen.

The Independent covers coming crisis:

Britain facing ‘agricultural crisis’ as scientists warn there are only 100 harvests left in our farm soil

Intense over-farming means there are only 100 harvests left in the soil of the UK’s countryside, a study has found.

With a growing population and the declining standard of British farmland, scientists warned that we are on course for an “agricultural crisis” unless dramatic action is taken.

Despite the traditional perception that there is a green and pleasant land outside the grey, barren landscape of our cities, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that on average urban plots of soil were richer in nutrients than many farms.

Sampling local parks, allotments and gardens in urban areas, Dr Jill Edmondson showed that the ground was significantly healthier than that of arable fields. Allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen and was significantly less compacted.

Cooking with the Guardian:

2014 on track to be hottest year on record, says US science agency

  • Global average temperatures in September were highest ever, following warmest year to date since 1998

The world is on course for this to be the hottest year ever, with global land and sea temperatures for September the highest ever recorded for the month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

The findings, which confirm September as the warmest such month on record, continue a string of record-beating months for global temperature.

The year to date for 2014 is already tied with 1998 as the warmest such period since record keeping began in 1880, Noaa scientists said.

On a parallel note, via BBC News:

Europe emission targets ‘will fail to protect climate’

Europe’s leaders are about to consign the Earth to the risk of dangerous climate change, a UN expert says.

Prof Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the EU’s plan to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2030 is too weak.

He says it will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

The Commission rejected the claim, saying the 40% target puts Europe on track for long-term climate goals.

From TakePart, chemical killing:

The U.S Approves a Powerful New Pesticide Deadly to Monarch Butterflies

The dominance of genetically modified crops requires ever-more-toxic pesticides that are wiping out the iconic insect’s sole source of food.

Is the monarch butterfly the new polar bear?

The iconic insect, whose numbers have plummeted from 1 billion to 35 million over the past two decades, is emerging as the latest symbol of environmental catastrophe: In this case, the impact of industrial agriculture, genetically modified crops, and skyrocketing pesticide use on wildlife.

The latest fight over the future of the monarch broke out on Wednesday, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a powerful—and highly toxic—new weed killer called Enlist Duo. Made by Dow AgroSciences and designed to be sprayed on genetically modified corn and soybean crops, Enlist Duo combines glyphosate and 2,4-D in a formula that’s supposed to kill weeds that have developed a resistance to each of those individual pesticides.

One wild plant that has not developed defenses against growing pesticide use is milkweed, which is essential to the monarch’s survival.

And from Al Jazeera America, an American tragedy:

UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs

  • Two UN rapporteurs recommended Detroit immediately resume water service for residents unable to pay their bills

Surrounded by a frenzy of cameras, Detroit resident Rochelle McCaskill explained her predicament to a team of United Nations officials on Sunday: The numbers simply didn’t add up.

Out of her $672 monthly disability check, McCaskill spends $600 rent, she said, leaving her unable to pay the city’s water bills, which have skyrocketed to more than twice the national average.

“They need a category for those of us who cannot pay,” said McCaskill, whose water was shut off this summer as part of a wave of disconnections that, block by block, have left thousands of city residents without running water.

The city turned off McCaskill’s water despite the fact that she had been paying down her $540.10 water bill in increments and that she suffers from MRSA, a contagious infection that the NIH considers a “serious public health concern” and requires frequent bathing.

Spare the air with the Guardian:

India’s air quality figures can’t be trusted

  • Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, but it may actually be worse as faulty instruments, data fudging and lack of regulation allow industries to pollute with impunity

India is changing the way it maps pollution, with an update to its air quality index.. In its initial phase, eight pollutants will be tracked in 46 cities with populations exceeding a million people. After five years, the rest of the country will slowly be brought into the system.

At the launch, the minister for environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, said it wouldn’t be “business as usual” anymore.

The move couldn’t have come a moment sooner.

Five months ago, World Health Organisation declared Delhi to be the worst polluted city on earth. In a study spanning 1,600 cities across 91 countries, the organisation used India’s own officially released data to show the city had the world’s highest annual average concentration of microscopic airborne particles known as PM2.5.

These extremely fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are linked with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease as they penetrate deep into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream. Delhi’s annual PM2.5 reading was 153 compared to London’s 16. Indian officials contested the study’s finding but agreed Delhi was as bad as Beijing, although the latter’s PM2.5 reading was only 56.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

ASAHI POLL: 27% of Fukushima voters want immediate end to nuclear power

Twenty-seven percent of voters in Fukushima Prefecture, home to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, want Japan to immediately abolish nuclear energy, around double the national average, an Asahi Shimbun survey found.

About 55 percent of voters in the prefecture support a break away from nuclear power in the near future, according to the telephone survey conducted on Oct. 18-19.

The survey results showed anti-nuclear sentiment is higher in Fukushima Prefecture than in the rest of the country.

Hot to trot with JapanToday:

Obuchi’s departure won’t affect nuclear reactor restarts

The Japanese government’s plan to restart nuclear reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster will not be affected by Monday’s resignation of the industry minister, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is losing a convincing advocate of a step most view with suspicion.

The resignation of Yuko Obuchi, 40, from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, six weeks after she was appointed, is the latest hitch in a process bogged down by documentation over safety standards, concerns about natural disasters and local opposition.

“Obviously as a young mother, the youngest cabinet minister, she was a reassuring figure (who showed) that restarting the reactor wouldn’t be as threatening as people feared,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.

“Now that she’s gone, Abe has lost that reassuring presence and it’s unlikely that he’s going to be able to find anyone as convincing as her,” Kingston said.

NHK WORLD covers an okay:

City assembly approves Sendai plant restart

A special panel at a city assembly in southern Japan has approved a petition to allow a local nuclear power plant to resume operations.

The panel at the Satsuma Sendai city assembly in Kagoshima Prefecture discussed petitions both for and against the restart of the Sendai plant on Monday.

The plant is operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company. Last month it became the first to pass new regulations for nuclear plants introduced after the 2011 Fukushima accident.

But the meeting at which the decision was made was marked by controversy, as second NHK WORLD report notes:

Opponents scuffle with officials

People opposed to the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan scuffled with city officials when they tried to enter a room where the city assembly’s special panel was meeting.

After the panel adopted a petition calling for the restart of the plant, people gathered in front of the Satsumasendai city hall to protest the decision.

And plans for the restart of another nuclear complex are moving forward as well, NHK WORLD reports:

KEPCO to submit revised Takahama safety plan

The operator of a power plant on the Sea of Japan coast says it will submit revised safety measures to the country’s nuclear regulator as early as next week.

Officials of Kansai Electric Power Company say they have completed recalculations of the potential maximum height of a tsunami that could hit the Takahama plant.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, had pointed out to the utility that it underestimated the height in its first assessment. The company was obliged to conduct tsunami simulations for 2 reactors at the plant.

Finally, from the New York Times, what could possibly go wrong?:

Power Plants Seek to Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors for Decades

The prospects for building new nuclear reactors may be sharply limited, but the owners of seven old ones, in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina, are preparing to ask for permission to run them until they are 80 years old.

Nuclear proponents say that extending plants’ lifetimes is more economical — and a better way to hold down carbon dioxide emissions — than building new plants, although it will require extensive monitoring of steel, concrete, cable insulation and other components. But the idea is striking even to some members of the nuclear establishment.

At a meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in May, George Apostolakis, a risk expert who was then one of the five commissioners, pointed out that if operation were allowed until age 80, some reactors would be using designs substantially older than that.

“I don’t know how we would explain to the public that these designs, 90-year-old designs, 100-year-old designs, are still safe to operate,” he said. “Don’t we need more convincing arguments than just ‘We’re managing aging effects’?”

EnviroWatch: Ills, seas, animals, & nukes


First up the latest on an ongoing tragedy from CCTV America:

Number of polio cases in Pakistan highest in 14 years

Program notes:

This month Pakistan broke a 14-year record for the highest number of polio cases in a year. Militants continue to block vaccination efforts. CCTV America’s Danial Khan reports.

And an Asia outbreak continues to grow, via Want China Times:

Record-high number of dengue fever cases expected in Taiwan this year

Over the next few days, the accumulated number of dengue fever cases reported in Taiwan could surpass the previous high of 5,336 such cases recorded in 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Thursday.

With a rate of 900 new cases per week since the beginning of October, it is only a matter of time before Taiwan sees the worst dengue fever outbreak in its history, CDC Deputy Director Chou Jih-haw said.

According to the CDC, there have been 4,750 indigenous dengue fever cases as of Oct. 13, 47 of which were the more severe hemorrhagic dengue fever, Chou said.

From BBC News, a South Seas climate protest:

South Pacific climate activists blockade Australia port

Hundreds of climate change protestors have attempted to disrupt shipments of coal from a port north of Sydney using their canoes, kayaks and surfboards to form a blockade.

The group included people from countries in the South Pacific who said they wanted to highlight the effects of climate change on their nations. They said the burning of coal mined in Australia was causing sea levels to rise which will impact low-lying Pacific islands.

About 30 Pacific Climate Warriors, as they call themselves, took to the water in traditional canoes. They had come from countries including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tokelau.

From the Guardian, they’re doing it on porpoise:

UK is breaking EU’s conservation laws on porpoises

  • European commission could take Britain to court within two months for failure to protect harbour porpoises

Britain is facing a referral to the European Court of Justice within two months unless it designates more protection sites for harbour porpoises, a threatened species in the North Sea.

Harbour porpoises are the most common, and smallest, cetacean species found in UK waters. Similar in appearance to bottlenose dolphins, they are very social animals, rotund in shape with a small dorsal fin that shows above the waves.

Although they are still relatively abundant, their numbers are thought to be falling fast under pressure from human activities such as fisheries bycatch, starvation, underwater noise and injuries from boats.

Salon casts doubt on a serial killer:

EPA: Bee-killing pesticides used on soy crops don’t even do what they’re supposed to

  • A federal study finds “negligible benefits” to the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed coatings

The EPA has yet to do much about neonicotinoids, the class of pesticides implicated in the United States’ mass bee die-offs, but it has started looking into them. And the results of an extensive review into one such pesticides, commonly applied to soybean seeds, presents another compelling reason to ban them: using them, the agency found, isn’t any better than using no pesticides at all.

“These seed treatments provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations,” the report concludes; at most, they up revenue by $6, or less than 2 percent, per acre, but the more likely estimate is $0. Part of the problem is that the insecticides are only effective within the first few weeks of planting, while the insects they’re intended to combat aren’t typically active during that time. And if attacks do occur, the study the study identified a whole assortment of other, non-bee-killing alternatives that are both effective and comparable in cost.

Colony collapse disorder, on the other hand, has cost the U.S. an estimated $2 billion in lost hives and, as a result, some $30 billion in crops.

From the Guardian, good on ‘em:

China tests outright logging ban in state forests

  • China has halted commercial logging by state firms in forests in Heilongjiang, a move experts see as a significant step to curb over-exploitation of timber, reports chinadialogue

China has launched a trial ban on commercial logging in state-owned forests in the vast north-eastern province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia, home to much of the country’s timber industry. Forestry experts have hailed the ban as a major step forward, predicting it will enable timber supplies to recover and shift the industry’s focus towards improved forestry management.

To make the ban stick, the central government has allocated 2.35bn yuan a year to cover forestry workers’ living costs between 2014 and 2020, chinadialogue has learned from the State Forestry Administration (SFA). If the trial ban is successful, the policy may be extended throughout north east China and Inner Mongolia.

Sheng Weitong, a forestry expert and former advisor to China’s cabinet-level state council, told chinadialogue that some laid-off loggers “will become forest rangers and learn how to manage forests because the vast numbers of young and semi-mature trees in these districts need management. Workers here neglected forest management in the past.”

And off to Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Survey: More Fukushima evacuees give up returning

A survey shows more evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident have given up returning home. The Reconstruction Agency and local municipalities released on Friday the results of the annual survey conducted in August.

Almost half of respondents from 2 towns designated as an evacuation zone said they decided they will not go back. The percentage of people who gave this answer is up 11 points from last year in the town of Namie and up 3 points in Tomioka town.

Officials say some of the people who were undecided in last year’s survey have made up their mind.

A delay from the Asahi Shimbun:

ANALYSIS: TEPCO behind schedule to eliminate contaminated water despite extra measures

Thanks to the newly set up ALPS units and the improved model to be introduced, it is estimated that the radioactive water processing ability of the plant will rise from the current maximum of 750 tons per day to 1,960 tons, according to TEPCO.

But many problems have been reported with ALPS since it first became operational, repeatedly forcing the plant operator to halt its operations. The utilization rate for the system between January and August was just 35 to 61 percent.

Although TEPCO replaced some components of ALPS with improved parts, problems occurred with some replaced components in late September, forcing the utility to suspend operations of some units of the system.

Whereas TEPCO has set a goal of completing the purification of all highly radioactive water stored on site, it would still be difficult to achieve that goal even if TEPCO could operate all the processing systems day and night.

A state broadcaster rebels, via Public Radio International’s The World:

Japan’s timid coverage of Fukushima led this news anchor to revolt — and he’s not alone

It’s been three-and-a-half years since 83-year-old Kamematsu left his home, with its rice patties, vegetable fields and 10 cows, fleeing the disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. He still can’t go back.

When will it be ready for people again? No one seems to know — or be interested in telling him. “I can’t take my land with me,” he says, “so I don’t know what to do. I can’t see ahead.”

Kamematsu is one of about 80,000 people in Japan still officially displaced by the nuclear crisis. Questions remain about radiation levels, the clean-up process and when residents can return home. Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of media studies at Tokyo’s Sophia University, says many Japanese are frustrated by what they see as a lack of information.

Japanese journalists did what Tajima calls “announcement journalism” in reporting on the crisis. He says they were reporting the press releases of big companies and the people in power. And he’s not the only one who thinks so.

“I am a newscaster, but I couldn’t tell the true story on my news program,” says Jun Hori, a former anchor for NHK, the Japanese state broadcaster.

Hori says the network restricted what he and other journalists could say about Fukushima and moved more slowly than foreign media to report on the disaster and how far radiation was spreading. The attitude in the newsroom was not to question official information

Another reactor stress from the Japan Times:

Utilities pressed to make quick decision on scrapping aged reactors

The government called on Friday for utilities to swiftly decide whether to scrap aging reactors that would be particularly vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster.

The pro-nuclear government, which is seeking to reactivate the nation’s idled reactors as soon as possible despite a glut of solar and other renewable energy that is being boycotted by the utilities, is pushing the them to decide quickly in the hope that shutting old facilities will help mitigate public concern so restarts can proceed.

Under new, tighter safety standards adopted because of the 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, utilities are not allowed to operate reactors for longer than 40 years, in principle.

And here’s one to give you nightmares, from JapanToday:

Expert says 2 Sendai reactors in danger from active volcano

A prominent volcanologist disputed Japanese regulators’ conclusion that two nuclear reactors were safe from a volcanic eruption in the next few decades, saying Friday that such a prediction was impossible.

A cauldron eruption at one of several volcanos surrounding the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan could not only hit the reactors but could cause a nationwide disaster, said Toshitsugu Fujii, University of Tokyo professor emeritus who heads a government-commissioned panel on volcanic eruption prediction.

Nuclear regulators last month said two Sendai reactors fulfilled tougher safety requirements set after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The regulators ruled out a major eruption over the next 30 years until the reactors’ reach the end of their usable lifespan.

More from Reuters:

Japan’s volcanoes made more jittery by 2011 quake, expert says

Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake may trigger more, and larger, volcanic eruptions over the next few decades, perhaps even that of Mount Fuji – but predicting them remains close to impossible, a volcano expert said on Friday.

The nation last month suffered its worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years when Mount Ontake, its second tallest active volcano at 3,067 meters (10,062 feet), suddenly erupted, raining down ash and stone on hikers crowding the summit.

The eruption killed 56 people, exceeding the deaths in the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens in the United States. Seven victims remain missing, and recovery efforts have been suspended until the spring.

Japan may well be moving into a period of increased volcanic activity touched off by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake of March 11, 2011, said Toshitsugu Fujii, a volcanologist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

“The 2011 quake convulsed all of underground Japan quite sharply, and due to that influence Japan’s volcanoes may also become much more active,” Fujii told reporters.

And we close with another nightmare from NHK WORLD:

Shimomura criticizes Monju operator

Science minister Hakubun Shimomura has criticized the operator of the Monju fast-breeder prototype reactor for its failure to properly maintain equipment. It recently came to light that a number of monitoring cameras at the reactor are not working.

Shimomura told reporters on Friday that it is very regrettable that the operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, lacks a sense of responsibility. More than 50 cameras, or about one-third of those monitoring coolant pipes, were found to be broken when Monju was inspected in September.

Shimomura said reassuring the public about Monju’s safety is the minimum requirement for restarting the experimental reactor. He said the prototype reactor may be stopped forever if the operator’s poor management continues.

EbolaWatch: Fear, czar, alarms, meds, Africa


And a whole lot more, given the pace at which the outbreak is moving.

We begin with this from JapanToday:

World fears mount that Ebola battle being lost

The World Bank warned Friday the fight to stop Ebola was being lost, as the U.N. pleaded for more money to combat the escalating epidemic and global travel fears mounted.

As the death toll from the world’s worst-ever outbreak of the virus shot past 4,500, a glimmer of hope came from Senegal, which was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization.

The United States, meanwhile, named an “Ebola czar” to coordinate its response, after criticism of how a Texas hospital handled a Liberian victim, with two nurses who treated him now infected.

And a researcher at British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline said a vaccine may not be ready for commercial use until late 2016.

“We are losing the battle,” World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim warned, blaming a lack of international solidarity in efforts to stem the epidemic. “Certain countries are only worried about their own borders,” he told reporters in Paris.

And a continuing alarm from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: No impact from pledges of help, MSF says

International pledges of deployments and aid for Africa’s Ebola-hit regions have not yet had any impact on the epidemic, a major medical charity says.

Christopher Stokes of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the disease was still out of control. He said it was “ridiculous” that volunteers working for his charity were bearing the brunt of care in the worst-affected countries.

The disease has killed about 4,500 people so far, mostly in West Africa.

MSF runs about 700 out of the 1,000 beds available in treatment facilities Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The BBC’s Mark Doyle, at the UN Ebola logistics base in Ghana, says it is generally agreed that at least three times that number are needed.

Shanghai Daily covers a concession:

WHO admits it botched response to Ebola outbreak in West Africa

THE World Health Organization has admitted that it botched attempts to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information.

“Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” WHO said in a draft internal document, noting that experts should have realized traditional containment methods wouldn’t work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems.

The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.

Dr Peter Piot, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, said WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office. “It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the frontline,” he said. “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”

Piot also questioned why it took WHO five months and 1,000 deaths before the agency declared Ebola an international health emergency in August.

And Kyodo News covers a summit:

Asian, European leaders pledge at Milan summit to stop Ebola

Asian and European leaders wrapped up a two-day summit Friday, highlighting in the chair’s statement their determination to stop the Ebola virus from spreading.

“The spread of the Ebola virus constitutes a serious threat to global health and security,” the leaders of 51 countries attending the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, said in the statement released after the 10th biennial summit in Milan, Italy.

“They acknowledged the efforts by ASEM partners in providing aid to affected areas and called for further urgent action and greater national, regional and international collaboration to end the Ebola outbreak in a comprehensive and coordinated manner including an exchange of best practices,” the statement said.

From Britain comes another alarm, this one from the Tory-in-chief, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola is the ‘biggest health threat to our world in a generation’ – David Cameron

  • Prime Minister tells other world leaders to ‘look to their responsibilities’” in fighting ebola as Royal Navy sets sail for West Africa

Ebola is the “biggest health problem facing our world in a generation”, David Cameron has said, as he urged foreign leaders to “step forward” with more resources to fight the crisis.

The Prime Minister urged other leaders to “look to their responsibilities” to help tackle the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa.

Britain, he said, was “leading the way” in providing assistance to the region as he backed a call by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon for other countries to deliver more funding.

Speaking as he arrived at the Asia Europe summit in Milan, Italy, he said: “This is the biggest health problem facing our world in a generation. It is very likely to affect a number of the countries here today.”

The New York Times crowns a czar:

Ron Klain, Chief of Staff to 2 Vice Presidents, Is Named Ebola Czar

President Obama on Friday named Ron Klain, a seasoned Democratic crisis-response operative and White House veteran, to manage the government’s response to the deadly virus as public anxiety grows over its possible spread.

Mr. Klain, a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joseph R. Biden Jr., is known for his ability to handle high-stakes and fast-moving political challenges. He was the lead Democratic lawyer for Mr. Gore during the 2000 election recount, and was later played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO drama “Recount” about the disputed contest.

“Obviously right now, the news is dominated by Ebola, and we’ve got an all-hands-on-deck approach across government to make sure that we’re keeping the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said on Friday at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he was announcing new antifraud measures for government-issued debit cards.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau backgrounds:

Obama’s Ebola czar is a government insider with no medical background

“He is a brilliant strategist and is known for his ability to manage large, complex operations,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.

But Klain’s lack of medical expertise also drew complaints.

“I think it’s a pretty pathetic gesture to appoint a non-medical person to be in charge of this response, which has already been dangerously futile,” said Richard Amerling, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and associate clinical professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“This guy knows nothing about Ebola,” said Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health and a professor of medical and biomedical engineering at Northwestern University. “He’s probably a smart insider political guy. He has no credibility in the field of public health and he has no credibility in Africa, where the Ebola crisis began. . . . I really think that this is a very inappropriate choice.”

From the Guardian, presidential backtracking:

Obama not ruling out travel bans as experts watch for more cases

  • President considers further interventions and appointing crisis leader, while concern grows over infected woman’s air travel

Barack Obama has hinted at possible policy shifts in US efforts to contain Ebola, revealing he is considering fresh leadership to co-ordinate the federal response and is open to implementing travel bans if expert advice on its merits were to shift.

Speaking to reporters at the White House after his second two-hour meeting with advisers in as many days, the president also said extra disease control specialists were being sent to Ohio amid fears that a second nurse infected with the disease may have been contagious for longer than originally suspected.

“It is very important that we are monitoring and tracking anyone who was in close proximity to this second nurse,” said Obama, who earlier spoke with the Ohio governor about sending more experts from the Centers for Disease Control to the Cleveland area.

Others disagree, via the New York Times:

Experts Oppose Ebola Travel Ban, Saying It Would Cut Off Worst-Hit Countries

Fear of Ebola is spreading faster than the disease itself, and the growing paranoia in the United States is fueling calls to impose a travel ban on people coming from the three West African nations struggling with the outbreak.

In a politically tense climate, with the Nov. 4 elections just weeks away, the issue is being supercharged by partisan considerations with prominent Republicans calling for a ban, including John Boehner, the House speaker.

But public health officials say a travel ban would be ineffective and difficult to carry out and would not entirely prevent people in Ebola-hit countries from entering the United States.

Ultimately, health specialists said, a ban would do more harm than good because it would isolate impoverished nations that are barely able to cope with the outbreak, and possibly cut them off from the international aid workers who provide critical help to contain the disease.

Bans legislation tabled from The Hill:

Texas lawmakers to introduce Ebola travel ban legislation

Two Texas Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation banning travel between the U.S. and Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.

The Friday announcement from Reps. Kenny Marchant and Sam Johnson was made the same day the White House disclosed President Obama would appoint Democratic operative Ron Klain to oversee the interagency response to Ebola.

Marchant said the U.S. is “behind the curve” for combatting the spread of the deadly virus and called the pair’s bill, dubbed the Stop Ebola Act, a “proactive approach” to preventing more cases of Ebola in the U.S.

From Science, another surprise Obama move:

U.S. halts funding for new risky virus studies, calls for voluntary moratorium

The White House today stepped into an ongoing debate about controversial virus experiments with a startling announcement: It is halting all federal funding for so-called gain-of-function (GOF) studies that alter a pathogen to make it more transmissible or deadly so that experts can work out a U.S. government-wide policy for weighing the risks. Federal officials are also asking the handful of researchers doing ongoing work in this area to agree to a voluntary moratorium.

The “pause on funding,” a White House blog states, applies to “any new studies … that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.” The government also “encourages those currently conducting this type of work—whether federally funded or not—to voluntarily pause their research while risks and benefits are being reassessed.” Research and testing of naturally occurring forms of these pathogens will continue.

An accompanying document describes plans for a two-stage “deliberative process” to determine the risks and benefits of GOF experiments and to develop a U.S. policy for approving new studies. It will begin next week when the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), an advisory group that has not meet for 2 years, convenes on 22 October to begin designing a study to assess the risks and benefits of GOF research. The National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) will also hold a symposium to discuss the scientific issues, then later review the NSABB’s recommendations, which are due within 6 months.

And from the New York Times, the fury:

Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe

Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.

Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.

From The Hill, a false alarm in Washington on sensitive ground:

Woman rushed to hospital from Pentagon does not have Ebola

A woman who was rushed to the hospital Friday after vomiting in a Pentagon parking lot has been cleared for Ebola, Arlington Country official Mary Curtius confirmed Friday.

The hospitalization of the woman, whom officials believe had recently traveled to Africa, set off a chain reaction of preventive measures by Pentagon and Arlington County officials.

Pentagon officials confirmed reports that the woman, a civilian, had briefly boarded a bus with Marines on their way to a change-of-command ceremony for the Marine Corps commandant, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was expected to be in attendance.

From ABC News 2 in Baltimore, a condition report on America’s first homegrown Ebola patient:

Condition of nurse treated in Maryland for Ebola updated to ‘fair but stable’

The Ebola patient recovering here in Maryland was downgraded to fair condition today.

Nina Pham is a nurse from Dallas. Overnight, she was flown to Frederick Airport and driven to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda.

When Pham left Texas, she was listed in good condition. Now, she’s in fair but stable condition.

And from USA Today, more allegations about the hospital where she contracted the disease:

Dallas nurse blasts her hospital’s Ebola response

Program notes:

A Dallas nurse is coming forward to describe the “extreme chaos” following the death of her hospital’s first Ebola patient. She’s now monitoring herself for Ebola symptoms and worried for her colleagues.

A denial from the Washington Post:

Mexico fails to grant access to cruise ship carrying Texas health worker

The cruise ship carrying a Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Dallas Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan is headed back to the United States after Mexican authorities failed to grant permission for the ship to dock off the coast of Cozumel, according to a Carnival spokeswoman.

The Carnival Magic had been waiting off the Mexican coast since Friday morning for its scheduled port visit. Mexican authorities still hadn’t given clearance by noon, so the ship continued to its home port of Galveston, Tex., where it was due back on Sunday, according to Carnival.

The health worker, a lab supervisor who has not been named, has shown no symptoms of the disease but remains on board and in voluntary isolation, according to Carnival. “We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests,” read a statement from Carnival.

From the Los Angeles Times, the American Ebola watch list:

Ebola in the U.S.: 1,000 people under some level of watch

Whether by land, sea or air, the fear of Ebola has been spreading at a pace far faster than the growth in the number of people diagnosed with the disease.

In recent days, the number of people who have been asked to monitor themselves for symptoms has been steadily growing, especially among healthcare workers who were involved in the original treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who died from Ebola on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

As of Friday, a pool of about 1,000 people are being watched for symptoms, have been asked to monitor themselves or have been urged to check with a counselor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group includes a handful of people who have been ordered into quarantine, a larger group that is being closely watched with temperatures taken at least daily and a much larger group of travelers who may haven flown on a Frontier Airlines jetliner used at some point by an Ebola patient traveling with a low-grade fever.

The Guardian covers a condolence call:

Ebola: Liberian president phones Dallas mayor about infected nurses

Exclusive: Mike Rawlings said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city

The president of Liberia telephoned the mayor of Dallas and apologised for the fact that the Ebola virus had transferred from her country to his city and infected Americans, the mayor said during a conference call with religious leaders in Texas on Friday.

The mayor, Mike Rawlings, said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city, where a man who had recently returned from Liberia infected two nurses who treated him before he died, according to two people on the conference call.

“The mayor said that there was a call to him personally, and that the Liberian president had mentioned apologies, and, in his words, a little bit of responsibility that this was even happening,” Rex Howe, a pastor at Scofield Memorial church, told the Guardian.

And right here on San Francisco Bay, via the Oakland Tribune, the nurses who cared for esnl are marching over perceived lack of training and equipment at the same hospital where we lost bladder and prostate to cancer:

Nurses march in Oakland to demand greater safety for treating Ebola

Kaiser Permanente nurses marched Thursday morning in downtown Oakland to call for increased resources and training to treat Ebola patients.

Zenei Cortez, co-president of the California Nurses Association, said nurses are asking for the same kind of safety and training provided to hazardous materials workers who treat Ebola infected homes.

Following recent reports of nurses who became infected with ebola after treating a patient, nurses are asking for hands-on interactive training in how to handle possible Ebola cases, rather than the classroom training Kaiser is currently offering, Cortez said. They want to learn how to safely put on and take off gear, and the protocol to properly dispose of contaminated gear.

And if a hospital gets a patient, nurses want enough staff to be present to monitor the nurses to keep them safe, Cortez said.

The Washington Post covers a surprising case of Ebolaphobia:

Syracuse University disinvites Washington Post photographer because he was in Liberia 3 weeks ago

Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille, who returned from covering the Ebola epidemic in Liberia 21 days ago, has been disinvited by Syracuse University from participation in a journalism workshop this weekend.

Du Cille and his wife, Nikki Kahn, both Pulitzer prize-winning Post photojournalists, were scheduled to take part in portfolio reviews and critique sessions at the university’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. The school’s dean, Lorraine Branham, said a student who was researching du Cille prior to the workshop found out he had recently returned from Liberia and expressed concern. Provost Eric Spina spoke with health officials and made the call.

“It’s a disappointment to me,” du Cille said. “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

CBC News covers another one:

Ebola outbreak: diagnosis delayed after Air Canada refuses to transport blood sample

  • Lab tests were not completed for more than 24 hours after being collected in Edmonton

Air Canada refused to fly a blood specimen from a patient suspected of Ebola from Edmonton to Winnipeg last weekend, CBC News has learned.

Officials are blaming poor communication and unclear protocols for the delay of more than 24 hours between when the sample was collected in Edmonton and when it finally arrived in Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab.

Sources tell CBC News the patient in question came in to the emergency room of an Edmonton-area hospital midday last Saturday.

A British extension from BBC News:

Ebola screening extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports

Passenger screening for Ebola is to be extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports, Public Health England says.

Staff at the two airports will begin checking passengers from at-risk countries after it is introduced at Gatwick and Eurostar next week.

Screening of arrivals from West Africa, where 4,500 have died in the outbreak, started at Heathrow on Tuesday.

And the Russian screens are nearly up, via RT:

Russian govt orders extra airport facilities to prevent Ebola

Airports in Russia will be equipped with extra facilities to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading, the government’s press service reported on Friday. Over a thousand African students are already under special medical control.

Cabinet discussed the Ebola outbreak with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. As the result of the meeting, Russian airports will soon receive special equipment to be installed, to prevent any possible spread of the deadly virus in the country.

According to press service, Russia’s top officials also discussed the vaccine development and medicine for extreme preventive care. Head of Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor health watchdog reported on the work of its special team in Guinea.

After jump, a Canadian vaccine heads for trials, a production push [assisted by Bill Gates] for another drug, a stark prognosis for India, false alarms in Costa Rica and Spain, on to Africa and a celebrity video campaign, a grim food warning for the hot zone, a Rwandan medical assist, East Africa promises medics and money, more Latin American assistance promised, medical staff recruitment problems remain, hot zone religious succor sought, South Sudan takes precautions, WHO outlines plans for African countries thus far spared, the plight of hot zone children, athletes stigmatized, on to Liberia and a stricken family, American/Liberian military bonding as the opening all promised treatment centers is delayed, numbers for one treatment unit, and heightened political divisions. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Warnings, pols, patients, Africa


We begin today’s collection of reports from around the world [with special emphasis on African media] with a fascinating video from USA Today:

Watch CDC Director’s language change on Ebola crisis

Program notes:

CDC Director, Dr. Thomas Frieden shifts his statements as the Ebola crisis deepens.

Another video, from Texas Health Resources, focusing on America’s first endogenous Ebola patient:

Nina Pham Speaks from Her Room at Texas Health Dallas

Program notes:

Before Nina Pham departed Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas for the National Institute of Health’s Clinical Center earlier today, she was visited by her treating physician, Dr. Gary Weinstein, who recorded his conversation with her before she was discharged. Ms. Pham asked that we share the video.

The latest from Dallas CBS affiliate KXAS:

Pham Transported to NIH in Maryland

Dallas nurse Nina Pham, the first person to contract the potentially deadly Ebola virus in the United States, appeared to be in good spirits in a rare, emotional video shot in her Dallas hospital room Thursday, just before she was flown to Maryland en route to the National Institutes of Health.

“Come to Maryland, everybody!” patient Nina Pham told Dr. Gary Weinstein and another health care worker treating her in the video, both of them wearing full protective suits, as the three of them became emotional. “I love you guys,” she said.

Pham, 26, was transported by ambulance Thursday afternoon from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to Love Field Airport, where she was able to walk up the stairs into a private jet for the flight to Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland.

She landed in Maryland just before 10 p.m. CDT for the ambulance ride to the National Institutes of Health.

And then there’s this from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Infected nurse’s quarantined dog may inspire Ebola pet protocols

Bentley, the dog owned by Ebola-stricken Texas nurse Nina Pham, is apparently thriving under quarantine – being fed, cared for and played with by Dallas workers in full protective gear.

In the process, the cute King Charles Spaniel has become a media phenomenon, with Twitter followers monitoring his progress through the city of Dallas feed @100Marilla.

His owner, who cared for the first U.S. Ebola victim at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, was transferred Thursday to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.

But medical experts still are considering how to treat pets, as public concern about the Ebola virus explodes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepare pet protocols.

The latest on the course of the epidemic from the Associated Press:

UN: Ebola death toll rising to 4,500 this week

The death toll from Ebola will rise this week to more than 4,500 people from the 9,000 infected and the outbreak is still out of control in three West African nations, a top official with the U.N. health agency said Thursday.

Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, director of the World Health Organization’s global capacities, alert and response, said new numbers show the outbreak is still hitting health workers hard despite precautions — with 427 medical workers infected and 236 dead — mainly because Ebola victims are most contagious around the time they die.

Nuttall said the focus of the world’s efforts should remain on the countries where the outbreak has been spreading out of control: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The Independent covers a parallel development:

Ebola outbreak: Famine approaches to add to West Africa’s torment

Sierra Leone’s fields are without farmers. Its crops go un-reaped. In the quarantine areas, feeding is patchy – some get food, others don’t. People then leave the enforced isolation in search of a meal, so Ebola spreads. In three West African countries where many already live a hand-to-mouth existence, the act of eating is increasingly rare.

Ebola, the virus that has ravaged Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea at an unprecedented rate, continues its devastating spread. The number of dead doubles with each passing month; the bodies unburied. More lives are devastated with each passing day.

And in the absence of a mass-produced vaccine, its treatment – enforced isolation, mass quarantines – now threatens to bring a new crisis: starvation.

Reassurance for some from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: WHO says major outbreak in West ‘unlikely’

Christopher Dye, WHO director of strategy, said the introduction of Ebola into the US or other countries in Western Europe was a matter “for very serious concern”

“The possibility that once an infection has been introduced that it spreads elsewhere, is something that everybody is going to be concerned about,” he said.

But he added: “We’re confident that in North America and Western Europe where health systems are very strong, that we’re unlikely to see a major outbreak in any of those places.”

And the Washington Post covers another side effect:

An epidemic of fear and anxiety hits Americans amid Ebola outbreak

Though Ebola’s dangers are real and terrifying, epidemiologists and other authorities say that, for now, its greatest mark could be on the psyche of the country where other health threats are more perilous.

President Obama late Wednesday sought to quell any risk of panic, telling the American people, “The dangers of your contracting Ebola, the dangers of a serious outbreak, are extraordinarily low.”

[A]ll over the country, Americans expressed deep anxiety about the threat of Ebola. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, two-thirds of Americans are worried about an Ebola epidemic in the United States, and more than 4 in 10 are “very” or “somewhat worried” that they or a close family member might catch the virus.

And the perspective of Tom Toles, the Post’s editorial cartoonist:

BLOG Toles

More from Al Jazeera America:

In battling Ebola, fighting panic is as critical as containing virus

  • Allaying fears while urging vigilance is a unique challenge for public health officials

As U.S. public health officials and hospital workers race to help contain the global Ebola epidemic, they are confronting an equally pressing challenge at home: tamping down public hysteria.

Although the virus has wreaked havoc on West Africa, claiming more than 4,400 lives, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization, only three cases have been diagnosed in the United States. The disease is not airborne and can be spread only through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is exhibiting symptoms. Still, the news that a second health care worker was infected in Dallas after caring for an Ebola patient and allegations by nurses that the hospital where he was treated had sloppy protocols have added to unease across the United States.

“Ebola is serious. People are understandably afraid of what it means and what the implications are for them,” said Peter Jacobson, a professor of health law and policy at the University of Michigan. “At the same time, we have really excellent public health professionals who are able to communicate the extent of the threat, what we know and what we don’t know.”

Ebolaphobia rampant, via the New York Times:

As Ebola Fears Spread, Ohio and Texas Close Some Schools

An Ebola-infected nurse’s air travel between Dallas and Cleveland has sent ripples of concern through at least two states, leading to school closings and voluntary isolations.

Schools in Texas and Ohio were closed on Thursday after officials learned that students and an adult had either been on the flight with the nurse, Amber Joy Vinson, or had contact with her while she was visiting the Akron area.

Both Ms. Vinson and another nurse who contracted Ebola, Nina Pham, were part of the medical team that treated an Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Ms. Vinson traveled from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she showed symptoms of the disease.

In Akron, Ohio, officials dismissed students at the Resnik Community Learning Center at midday and said it would remain closed until Monday. In a letter to parents, the schools superintendent in Akron, David W. James, said that “a parent at the school had spent time with Ebola patient Amber Vinson when she visited the area this past weekend.”

Another manifestation from the Los Angeles Times:

‘No Ebola here,’ college says after evacuation spurs rumors, fears

The student whose flu-related comments led to a classroom building at Southwestern College in Chula Vista being evacuated Thursday does not have Ebola, a college spokeswoman said.

The student has a sister in the hospital with flu-like symptoms. The sister was not near any Ebola patient or on any airline flight that such a patient may have taken, said college spokeswoman Lillian Leopold.

Concern about a possible Ebola connection spread through rumor and social media faster than officials could confirm whether the student or a family member had been exposed to the deadly virus, Leopold said. Within minutes, local media were reporting a possible Ebola connection.

Southwestern College said in a statement that it had evacuated and cordoned off Building 470 as a precaution. Emergency personnel from the city of Chula Vista were at the scene, but San Diego County public health officials did not send a team.

And from CNN:

How worried is the Pentagon about Ebola? Creating special Ebola boot camp and updating pandemic plans

And then there’s this, via BuzzFeed:

GOP Senator: ISIS Using Ebola Is A “Real And Present Danger”

  • Asked whether the U.S. should be concerned about ISIS militants bringing Ebola into the country, Sen. Ron Johnson said we should do everything possible to prevent such a thing

A Republican senator says he sees the threat of ISIS militants intentionally infecting themselves with the Ebola virus and then traveling to America as a “real and present danger.”

“Well, it’s certainly something I’ve been thinking about ever since this Ebola outbreak started,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said Wednesday of ISIS using Ebola on America’s Forum on NewsmaxTV.

NewsMaxTV cited Al Shimkus, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, who said last week that that ISIS fighters could infect themselves with the Ebola virus and then travel to U.S. as a form of biological warfare.

From The Hill, Obama concedes an issue to the Republicans:

Obama may appoint Ebola czar

President Obama on Thursday said it “may make sense” to appoint an Ebola czar to oversee the federal government’s response to the deadly virus.

Obama’s remarks represent a significant shift for the White House, which has rejected the czar idea repeatedly.

“It may make sense for us to have one person in part just so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process to make sure we’re crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s,” Obama said after meeting with top health officials in the Oval Office.

“If I appoint somebody, I’ll let you know,” he added.

And the latest American Ebola scare, via China Daily:

Patient with ‘Ebola-like symptoms’ admitted to Connecticut hospital

Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut was evaluating a patient with “Ebola-like symptoms” on Thursday and will likely know within 24 hours whether the person has the deadly disease, a hospital official said.

The patient is one of two Yale University graduate epidemiology students who traveled to Liberia last month to advise the health ministry on using computers to track Ebola, according to Laurence Grotheer, a spokesman for New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.

“Yale-New Haven Hospital admitted a patient late Wednesday night for evaluation of Ebola-like symptoms. We have not confirmed or ruled out any diagnosis at this point,” the hospital said in the statement on its website.

Dr. Thomas Balcezak, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said at a press conference that fever was among the patient’s symptoms and they were placed in isolation. Balcezak said the patient was in stable condition.

On to the politics and logistics from the Los Angeles Times:

‘We made mistakes,’ Dallas hospital chief says of Ebola crisis

Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday defended his agency’s handling of the Ebola crisis while conceding the agency may have allowed a Texas nurse to fly on a commercial airline even though she was among a group of healthcare workers involved in treating the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the nation.

The hearing followed partisan lines, with Republicans pushing their agenda for closing the border with a ban on travel from West African countries where the Ebola virus has broken out. Democrats opposed such a ban and called for greater efforts to fight Ebola at the source in Africa. Some Democrats questioned the effect of GOP-backed budget cuts in curbing efforts to fight Ebola at home.

“People are scared,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “People’s lives are at stake, and the response so far has been unacceptable.”

More from the Washington Post:

CDC director’s challenge: Deadly Ebola virus and outbreak of criticism

“I am not protecting West Africa,” Tom Frieden, pacing in his office, tells an unhappy U.S. senator on the other end of a call from Washington. “My number one responsibility is to protect Americans from threats.”

Then: “Respectfully, sir, I don’t agree with you.”

A moment later: “I hope to regain your confidence.”

When he hangs up, Frieden doesn’t identify the senator, other than to say he was a Republican who wants an absolute travel ban on people from West Africa because of the Ebola epidemic. Frieden thinks that’s a misguided idea that will backfire, but the senator would not be persuaded.

“It was pingpong ball against iron safe,” he says.

From BBC News, a mixed report from the UN:

Ebola crisis: WHO signals help for Africa to stop spread

The World Health Organization is to “ramp up” efforts to prevent Ebola spreading beyond the three countries most affected by the deadly virus.

Fifteen African countries are being prioritised, top WHO official Isabelle Nuttall told a Geneva news conference.

They will receive more help in areas including prevention and protection.

But former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said he is “bitterly disappointed” with the international community’s response.

More from the New York Times:

New U.N. Ebola Trust Fund Falls Far Short of Goal

The United Nations trust fund for Ebola has received barely one percent of the $1 billion that the world body says it needs to tackle the outbreak — and that too from only one country, Colombia, United Nations officials said Thursday.

It has received pledges of about $20 million from various governments, but only $100,000 in actual cash deposits.

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general, had earlier told reporters that the trust fund, announced in mid-September, had received $20 million in cash. His aides later clarified that the $20 million amount referred to pledges, not cash.

From the Guardian, a caution:

Ebola epidemic may not end without developing vaccine, scientist warns

  • Professor Peter Piot, one of the scientists who discovered Ebola, claims scale of outbreak has got ‘completely out of hand’

The Ebola epidemic, which is out of control in three countries and directly threatening 15 others, may not end until the world has a vaccine against the disease, according to one of the scientists who discovered the virus.

Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it would not have been difficult to contain the outbreak if those on the ground and the UN had acted promptly earlier this year. “Something that is easy to control got completely out of hand,” said Piot, who was part of a team that identified the causes of the first outbreak of Ebola in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1976 and helped bring it to an end.

The scale of the epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea means that isolation, care and tracing and monitoring contacts, which have worked before, will not halt the spread. “It may be that we have to wait for a vaccine to stop the epidemic,” he said.

A de facto quarantine in Dallas from the Guardian:

Texas healthcare workers at risk of Ebola asked to stay out of public

  • Seventy-five staff members of Dallas hospital asked to sign ‘binding legal order’ that states they will avoid public spaces

Healthcare workers deemed to be at risk of contracting Ebola after dealing with a patient who died from the virus in Texas are being asked to sign voluntary agreements to stay away from the public, after Dallas authorities decided against declaring a state of emergency.

Seventy-five staff members from Texas Health Presbyterian hospital are being given a “binding legal document and order” that states they will avoid public transport, not go to areas where large numbers of people congregate, and continue to be monitored twice a day for symptoms, county judge Clay Jenkins said on Thursday.

Any of those involved in the care of Thomas Eric Duncan who refuse to sign the agreement would be subject to a legal control order, Jenkins told reporters after a meeting of the county commissioners court in downtown Dallas. “All the remedies of the law are available,” he said. However he said he believed this would not be necessary. “These are hometown healthcare heroes,” he said. “They’re not going to jail.”

One complication, via the Associated Press:

US monitors health care worker aboard cruise ship

Obama administration officials say a Dallas health care worker who handled a lab specimen from an Ebola-infected man from Liberia who died of the disease is on a Caribbean cruise ship where she has self-quarantined and is is being monitored for any signs of infection.

The officials say the woman has shown no signs of the disease and has been asymptomatic for 17 days.

The government is working to return the woman and her husband to the U.S. before the ship completes its cruise. The officials say the State Department is working with a country they won’t identify to secure their transportation home.

Labaor relations complicated, via Al Jazeera America:

Dallas hospital refutes nurses’ allegation of haphazard Ebola protocols

  • Nurses’ union said hospital didn’t properly handle patient who died after becoming first Ebola case diagnosed in US

Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas have countered allegations from a nurses’ union that sloppy protocols were used in dealing with Ebola at the facility, where Thomas Eric Duncan — the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States — died last week. The hospital said Thursday the union’s assertions “do not reflect actual facts.”

The development comes as the U.S. government seeks to ramp up its response to the Ebola crisis after two Dallas nurses also became ill, the second of whom had been cleared to travel on a commercial flight a day before her diagnosis, it has been disclosed.

While Ebola patients are not considered contagious until they have symptoms and only two people are known to have contracted the disease in the U.S., the latest revelations about the handling of the situation have raised alarms about whether hospitals and the public health system are equipped to handle the deadly disease.

Reuters lays blame:

Experts fault changing U.S. guidelines on Ebola protective gear

When Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visited Ebola-stricken sites in West Africa last August, he was dressed in a full protective bodysuit and ventilator.

That level of protection was far greater than the basic gear the CDC initially recommended for U.S. hospital workers, which at minimum included a gown, a single pair of gloves, a mask and face shield.

After a second nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas fell ill with Ebola after caring for a dying Liberian patient, the CDC this week beefed up its recommendations for personal protective equipment to include hooded full-body suits that cover the neck, more frequent hand washing and a supervisor who oversees the removal of infected gear, steps experts said should have been done long ago.

From the Guardian, the clamor intensifies:

Ebola crisis: Republicans ramp up calls for west Africa travel bans

  • FAA assessing question ‘on a day-to-day’ basis
  • White House says measure would be counter-productive

Republicans are stepping up pressure for travel bans on passengers arriving from Ebola-stricken countries in west Africa, calling for a vote on quarantine measures in the House of Representatives as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acknowledged it was assessing the question “on a day-to-day” basis.

The White House and senior US health officials continue to insist such measures would be counter-productive because they would hamper efforts to control the Ebola epidemic at its source, but the growing clamour from critics in Congress means the issue is becoming a major political battleground in Washington.

During the first hearing into the administration’s handling of the crisis in Washington on Thursday, a succession of Republican congressmen joined the House speaker, John Boehner, in calling on the administration to urgently review its opposition to tighter travel restrictions.

The inevitable, via BuzzFeed:

Boehner Won’t Say If Texas Should Have An Ebola Travel Ban, Too

The nation’s top elected Republican said Wednesday that travel should be halted from West African nations suffering from the Ebola outbreak.

House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday called for a “temporary” ban on flights from countries with Ebola outbreaks, but stopped short of calling for a travel ban for Texas, despite the fact that an Ebola-infected nurse flew to his home state of Ohio from Dallas earlier this month.

In a statement released by his office Wednesday evening, Boehner joined a growing chorus of Republicans insisting the Obama administration impose a travel ban on West African countries suffering from the Ebola conference.

Boehner invoked the Texas Ebola patient in calling for a ban on other parts of the world, saying, “Today we learned that one individual who has contracted the virus flew to Ohio through the Cleveland airport in the last few days. A temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus is something that the president should absolutely consider.”

Asked if Boehner also believes flights from Texas to other parts of the country should be halted, Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said by email Boehner “said [Obama] should consider a temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries afflicted with the virus along with any other appropriate actions. That’s where we are right now. Don’t have anything more.”

Meanwhile other countries are jumping on the travel banswagon. From the Associated Press:

Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad impose Ebola travel bans

Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday became the latest countries in the Western Hemisphere to restrict travelers from West African nations struggling with an epidemic of the Ebola virus.

The announcements came a day after Colombia and St. Lucia ordered similar prohibitions.

Authorities in Jamaica imposed an immediate entry ban on anyone who has been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone within four weeks.

The ban was announced shortly after a U.S. couple was quarantined at Sangster International Airport in the northern tourist town of Montego Bay. Airport screeners found one of the Americans had been in Liberia two weeks ago. Officials said the couple was kept in quarantine, found to be healthy, and then sent back to an unspecified city in the U.S.

Guyana’s government said that country’s diplomatic missions had been directed not to issue visas to people from West African nations affected by the virus.

Trinidad & Tobago said it would deny entry any resident of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo or Sierra Leone. Other travelers who have visited any of those nations within six weeks will be quarantined for 21 days upon their arrival.

From Al Jazeera America, heightening intensity:

Obama authorizes National Guard call-up amid criticism over Ebola response

  • President signs executive order permitting Pentagon to use reservists, but resists calls for West Africa travel ban

President Barack Obama has authorized the Pentagon to call up reserve and National Guard troops if they are needed to assist in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The United States has already committed to sending up to 4,000 military personnel to Ebola-stricken countries to provide logistics and help build treatment units to confront the rapidly spreading and deadly virus.

But amid rising criticism over the handling of the patients in the U.S., the White House resisted calls from Republican lawmakers that a travel ban be imposed on those wishing to fly to America from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — the countries that have been worst hit by the outbreak.

And some exceptional praise from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: US says Cuban medical support ‘welcome’

Cuba is a “welcome” addition to the fight against Ebola, a senior US official has said.

A state department spokesman said the Cuban government was doing more than many others to contain the disease. “We welcome their support,” she said. The US has maintained an embargo on Cuba for more than five decades.

Last month, Havana announced it would send about 450 medical and support staff to the region. The BBC’s Will Grant in Havana said that Cuba already had a tradition of sending its doctors and nurses to Africa before the recent Ebola outbreak.

Cuban officials are hosting a regional summit on the virus next week involving left-wing Latin American governments. Health ministers from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador are expected to attend to discuss how to bolster the region’s response to the Ebola crisis.

On to Canada with CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: Harper tells Obama more help on the way

  • Republican lawmaker questions whether U.S.-Canada border needs to be better secured

Canada is about to announce new measures in the fight against Ebola, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday amid increased fear over the spreading virus.

The prime minister made the promise in a phone chat with Obama, according to a summary of the call released by Harper’s office.

CBC News learned Wednesday that Canada was contributing an additional $30 million to the fight against Ebola. The new measures will add to Canada’s current contribution of $5 million, as the United Nations pleads for more international help and warns that the virus must be contained within 60 days.

The growing sense of panic was also reflected in a congressional hearing Thursday in Washington.

One lawmaker even briefly questioned whether the northern border might need to be better secured. That improbable reference to the 49th parallel came from a Tennessee Republican, who during a House hearing asked whether America’s land borders were safe from the deadly virus.

After the jump, Canadian alarms, intensified screenings in Europe, good news for Europe’s first endogenous Ebola patient but joined by four new suspect patients, a Danish false alarm and increased aid, still more aid from Germany and Sweden, Latin leaders huddle for preparations plans while Asian and Euopean leader do the same, China and Japan assess strengths and weaknesses and Australia wages an internal political battle, on to Africa and a warning from the African Union, an Ebolaphobia-driven soccer tournament cancellation, from Sierra Leone, a harsh warning for the nation’s capital and a doctor’s despairing prognosis as the nation’s last Ebola-free district falls victim and the biggest corporate benefactor of the Ebola fight goes bankrupt, thence to Liberia where there’s a shortage of body bags, survivors find themselves isolated, healthcare workers go unpaid, children teach each other, a projected civil service purge draws fire, and questionable ‘cures’ flourish, plus economic despir in Zimbabwe and the Gambia. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, toxins, climate, & GMOs


And nukes. . .

First up, this from BBC News:

Kenya Catholic Church tetanus vaccine fears ‘unfounded’

Kenya’s government has dismissed allegations made by the country’s Catholic Church that a tetanus vaccine can cause sterility in women. “It’s a safe certified vaccine,” Health Minister James Macharia told the BBC.

Catholic priests have been telling their congregations to boycott a campaign that begins on Monday to vaccinate women against tetanus.

Tetanus is regarded as a big threat to babies in Kenya, with a new-born child dying every day of the infection. According to Kenya’s health ministry, about 550 babies died of tetanus in Kenya last year.

Our pills, drugging the fish, via the Guardian:

Drugs flushed into the environment could be cause of wildlife decline

  • New studies show antidepressants causing starlings to feed less and contraceptive drugs reducing fish populations in lakes

Potent pharmaceuticals flushed into the environment via human and animal sewage could be a hidden cause of the global wildlife crisis, according to new research. The scientists warn that worldwide use of the drugs, which are designed to be biologically active at low concentrations, is rising rapidly but that too little is currently known about their effect on the natural world.

Studies of the effect of pharmaceutical contamination on wildlife are rare but new work published on Monday reveals that an anti-depressant reduces feeding in starlings and that a contraceptive drug slashes fish populations in lakes.

“With thousands of pharmaceuticals in use globally, they have the potential to have potent effects on wildlife and ecosystems,” said Kathryn Arnold, at the University of York, who edited a special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. “Given the many benefits of pharmaceuticals, there is a need for science to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks they pose.”

From the Independent, an aquatic conquest dreaded:

Alien species in UK could cause an ‘environmental catastrophe’ for British rivers

Five of Europe’s deadliest freshwater species are now in UK waters wreaking havoc on the environment, a Cambridge University study has warned. At least 10 more are expected in the next half-decade.

Invasive species impact on the biodiversity of Britain by eating native species as well as affecting human health and the economy. Many originate from the Black, Asov and Caspian seas around Turkey and Ukraine. Scientists worry that some may already be in Britain, but as yet undiscovered.

Fears have now been raised by the discovery of the quagga mussel in a reservoir near Heathrow. The molluscs, originally from Ukraine, were identified as the single greatest potential threat to the UK’s wildlife of any alien species in 2013. They have now arrived.

The Ecologist covers other kinds of invasive species:

Big Biotech’s African seed takeover

Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Limagrain are among the companies to buy into Africa’s indigenous seed companies. It’s all part of the corporate takeover of the continent’s agriculture at the expense of the small farmers who feed most of Africa’s people.

French seed giant Groupe Limagrain, the largest seed and plant breeding company in the European Union, has invested up to US$60 million for a 28% stake in SeedCo, one of Africa’s largest home-grown seed companies.

In another transaction, SeedCo has agreed to sell 49% of its shares in Africa’s only cottonseed company, Quton, to Mahyco of India – which is 26% owned by Monsanto.

Mahyco specialises in hybrid cotton varieties, and has a 50:50 joint venture with Monsanto to license its genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton throughout India. By contrast Quton produces unpatented , non-GMO ‘open-pollinated varieties’ (OPVs) of cottonseed.

From the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, organized resistance mounts as a nation’s legislators prepare to pass corporate-backed pro-GMO legislation:

Do not pass the “Plants Breeders Bill”

From the Jakarta Globe, lax ecocidal punishment lamented:

Riau Police Lament ‘Light’ Sentences for Those Burning Forests

As thick haze continues to cover large parts of Sumatra, police in Riau say that those responsible for the problem are getting away with sentences so lenient that there is hardly any deterrent effect.

“It has come to our attention that the sentences are around three months in prison on average, which is very light, and the toughest sentence is only five months,” Brig. Gen. Dolly Bambang Hermawan, the chief of Riau Police, was quoted as saying by state-run Antara news agency on Monday.

Dolly said that the courts are ignoring the fact that the raging forest and bush fires are a major problem. “Many people get sick, flights are disturbed,” he said.

The courts are not only lenient in cases of private individuals caught setting fire to swathes of land, but also to companies, Dolly said, citing the example of Adei Plantation and Industry.

A Bankster’s carbon bubble alert, via the Guardian:

Mark Carney: most fossil fuel reserves can’t be burned

  • Bank of England governor lends his support to ‘carbon bubble’ theory that coal, gas and oil assets are at risk, reports BusinessGreen

The governor of the Bank of England has reiterated his warning that fossil fuel companies cannot burn all of their reserves if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change, and called for investors to consider the long-term impacts of their decisions.

According to reports, Carney told a World Bank seminar on integrated reporting on Friday that the “vast majority of reserves are unburnable” if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2C.

Carney is the latest high profile figure to lend his weight to the “carbon bubble” theory, which warns that fossil fuel assets, such as coal, oil and gas, could be significantly devalued if a global deal to tackle climate change is reached.

Pentagonal perceptions of climate change, via the Verge:

Even the Pentagon agrees: climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’

  • Climate change makes pretty much everything worse — including terrorist groups

A new report from the Pentagon says that climate change poses a threat to national security — multiplying risks from terrorism, infectious disease, and food and water shortages. The bottom line? There may be a greater need for military response to disasters, as the changing weather creates new catastrophes.

The Pentagon isn’t the only one that’s concerned. Earlier this month, the British Medical Journal called on the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, based on a projected 250,000 additional deaths from 2030 and 2050. Today’s report from the Pentagon suggests ways for the military to respond to rising sea levels, as well as extreme weather such as violent storms or droughts. There are no specific budget recommendations in it, however.

Climate change may cause large-scale migrations of people away from areas affected by drought or heavy weather. That could give rise to more terrorist threats, Marcus King, an expert on climate change at George Washington University, told The New York Times. He suggested that climate change may have played a role in the rise of the Islamic State.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now! with the Mainichi:

Contracts for interim radioactive waste storage sites in Fukushima due to expire

Property leases for many interim radioactive waste storage facilities in Fukushima Prefecture are set to expire staring this month, a Mainichi Shimbun survey of local municipalities has found.

A total of 46 out of 47 municipalities in the prefecture subject to Fukushima nuclear disaster decontamination work responded to the Mainichi survey request, sent out in August this year. According to the results, as of the end of July, there were 859 temporary storage sites in 40 of the municipalities, holding some 3,194,688 cubic meters of radioactive soil and other contaminated waste from the disaster cleanup.

A government plan drawn up in October 2011 stated these sites would be closed in roughly three years. Accordingly, the central and local governments leased properties for many of the facilities for a three-year term. The leases for lands hosting 105 facilities storing 178,192 cubic meters of waste will reach their third year by the end of January 2015 — shrinking storage capacity even as the volume of waste increases as decontamination work continues.

Similar problems elsewhere, via the Japan Times:

As nuclear waste piles up, South Korea faces storage crisis

The world’s fifth-largest user of nuclear power has around 70 percent, or nearly 9,000 tons, of its used fuel stacked in temporary storage pools originally intended to hold it for five or six years, with some sites due to fill by the end of 2016.

It plans to cram those sites with more fuel than they were originally intended to hold while it looks for a permanent solution, suggesting little has been learned from the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

In the Fukushima crisis that started in 2011, the storage of large amounts of spent nuclear fuel in elevated pools posed a threat of massive radioactive release on top of meltdowns at three reactors. Spent fuel rods heated up after a quake knocked out water-cooling pumps, underlining the dangers of holding troves of radioactive material in relatively exposed cooling ponds.

And our final item, a British nuclear challenge via the Guardian:

Ecotricity considers legal challenge over EU go-ahead for Hinkley Point C

  • Energy supplier joins growing number of firms and organisations seeking to block planned subsidy scheme for new nuclear plan

Independent energy supplier Ecotricity is among companies and organisations considering a legal challenge against the European commission decision to give approval to Hinkley Point C nuclear plant.

Austria has already promised to fight the decision in the courts but Dale Vince, the founder of Ecotricity, said he might stand as an “interested party” in the European court of justice to block the planned subsidy scheme for the £24bn project in Somerset.

“This is a mad decision by Brussels and a patriotic issue for us. The financial support agreed for Hinkley would be an enormous burden for the country and there is the costs of decommissioning on top of that. Where is the money going to come from?” said Vince, whose company builds windfarms as well as supplying gas and electricity.